How to bet MLB divisional playoffs

Best value plays for the opening week of the 2014 postseason

By Dave Tuley

The wild-card games are completed, and the MLB postseason can now really get started. (By the way, does anyone agree these last two days felt like the Tuesday/Wednesday play-in game during the opening week of March Madness, but then the "real" tourney starts that Thursday?).
Both matchups had the road teams at slight minus-110 favorites with the home underdogs right around even money. The Kansas City Royals rallied from a 7-3 deficit Tuesday night against the Oakland Athletics to win 9-8 in 12 innings as the even-money home dog. Then theSan Francisco Giants broke open a pitchers' duel with Brandon Crawford's grand slam in the fourth inning and won 7-0 as a minus-110 road favorite against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
While the favorites/dogs and home/away teams split, both games went over the totals of 6.5 runs. But now the one-and-done wild-card games are behind us and we have four best-of-five divisional series to see who moves on in the march to the World Series.
As we wrote Tuesday, the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook had the Los Angeles Dodgers, Detroit Tigers and Washington Nationals as 9-2 tri-favorites to win it all. The Los Angeles Angels were 5-1, but have since been bet down to 9-2 as well. The other division winners -- Baltimore Orioles (7-1) and St. Louis Cardinals (8-1) -- were next in line, with the Giants at 14-1 and the Royals at 16-1, but now they're both 10-1.
Odds to win World Series

Team Current March 24
Dodgers 9-2 6-1
Tigers 9-2 7-1
Nationals 9-2 8-1
Angels 9-2 16-1
Orioles 7-1 40-1
Cardinals 8-1 6-1
Giants 10-1 20-1
Royals 10-1 30-1

Baltimore probably is the best value on the board right now at 7-1 despite having a tough matchup in the opening round against Detroit (we'll get to the four divisional series in a minute). The takeout is high on future-book wagers in general, so I'm using the word "value" loosely. I usually advise to bet a team's series price and roll over your winnings each series as opposed to playing the futures index.
For instance, if you were to bet 100 units on the Orioles to beat the Tigers at plus-130 (Note: they're plus-135 at the Westgate, but plus-130 is more widely available), you would have 230 units going into the ALCS. Assuming they face the Angels and you get around plus-150 or so, that would give you around 575 units heading into the World Series.
It's harder to project a price there, but if we just say around even money (higher if facing the Nationals or Dodgers), that ends up giving us a payoff of around 10-1. If you think the Orioles will face the Royals in the ALCS, then that would shorten their payoff as they'd be favored and perhaps the 7-1 would be "value."
I'm still holding out hope on my preseason pick of the Giants at 20-1, but 10-1 looks too short on them at this point. The play: Orioles to win World Series at 7-1 (or bet series prices and roll over winnings).

Divisional Playoff Series

Baltimore Orioles versus Detroit Tigers

Series starts: Thursday, Oct. 2 (5:35 p.m. ET)
Series odds: Detroit minus-155/Baltimore plus-135

How they match up: Baltimore won 96 games this year while Detroit won 90, so the Orioles get home-field advantage, but the Tigers won the season series 5-1 and are considered the better team, so they're decent-sized favorites here. However, even though the Detroit rotation is considered superior, it's interesting to note that their team ERAs are identical at 3.43. The Orioles have been more consistent, while the Tigers had a commanding midseason lead in the AL Central and lost it before reclaiming the division crown. The over/under was 3-3 in the season series this year.
Series pick: I give Baltimore a big shot to take this series at plus-135 at the Westgate (Note: Other books had them a little lower, though they were as high as plus-140 at the MGM Resorts. Home field is part of it (though the true home-field advantage really comes if there happens to be a fifth game) because I think it should help the O's to have the first two games at Camden Yards, as this is just their second playoff appearance since 1997 (they lost 3-2 to the New York Yankees in 2012), and they were 50-31 at home this season.
Situational play: I like Baltimore in Game 1, though an argument could be made that since this is just a best-of-5 series that it would better to just take the plus-135 to win the series as opposed to the Orioles plus-105 in the opener. Chris Tillman is 2-0 against Detroit the past two years, including outdueling Justin Verlander in a 3-1 game in April. Detroit's Game 1 starterMax Scherzer didn't face Baltimore this year and is 3-1 lifetime against the Orioles, but they've gotten to him a few times when he took a no-decision.

Kansas City Royals versus Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Series starts: Thursday, Oct. 2 (9:05 p.m. ET)
Series odds: Los Angeles minus-200/Kansas City plus-175

How they match up: The Los Angeles Angels finished with the best record in baseball at 98-64, so it's no surprise they're such big favorites against the wild card-surviving Kansas City Royals. We have an interesting dynamic here as the Angels had the best home record at 52-20, while the Royals had the best road record at 47-34 (they were barely over .500 at home at 42-39). Kansas City ended up with the better team ERA of 3.51 compared to the Angels' 3.58, but the Angels have the bigger edge on offense, as they averaged 4.77 runs per game compared to 4.02 for the Royals.
Series pick: The Angels just look like they have too much for the Royals, even though they split the season series 3-3. The Royals are a great story, but I think the Angels prevail, so I'm not going to take a flier on the underdog in the series.
Situational play: I think a nice underdog play could come with Kansas City in Game 2 on Friday. The Angels are slated to start Matt Shoemaker, who was an impressive 16-4 this year, but the Angels lost both of his starts against the Royals, as he gave up eight runs in four innings on June 27 in an 8-6 loss and also gave up three runs (two earned) in five innings on May 24 as he took a no-decision but the Angels lost 7-4. Yordano Ventura lost his only start against LA this year, but he only gave up two runs in four innings and should be a decent price in Game 2.

San Francisco Giants versus Washington Nationals

Series starts: Friday, Oct. 3 (3:05 p.m. ET)
Series odds: Washington minus-160/San Francisco plus-140

How they match up: Washington won the season series 5-2. The Nationals, who led the majors with a 3.03 team ERA, are seen to have a big pitching edge. Manager Matt Williams hasn't announced the starting rotation, but they can go with former No. 1 pick Stephen Strasburg (who missed the 2012 playoffs due to a team-imposed innings limit), Jordan Zimmermann (who threw a no-hitter in the regular-season finale Sunday), Doug Fister (who has postseason experience with Detroit and had a 1.87 ERA in September) and Gio Gonzalez(2.48 ERA the last month, if the Nats go with a four-man rotation). The Nationals have a smaller edge with an average of 4.23 runs scored per game compared to 4.10 for San Francisco.
Series pick: I'm going with San Fran plus-140 to win the series, though I'm biased, as the Giants were my preseason World Series pick. They do have the edge in postseason experience, just two years removed from their 2012 title, while Washington lost in the first round in its only postseason appearance that same year. The Nats have the talent, obviously, but I have no problem fading them until they prove it.
Situational play: Despite the strong pitchers on these two teams, there were 71 runs scored in the seven meetings this season, or just over 10 runs per game and the over was 6-1, so I'd look to the over in this series. It wasn't as lopsided as that, as three of the game were in double digits, while three of them had eight runs scored with totals of seven or 7.5, but these teams' batters won't be intimidated by the other team's pitchers. Also, San Fran has won its last seven elimination games. We don't know if/when they'll face one here, but keep that in mind if they're trailing 2-1 going into Game 4 at home or in a decisive Game 5.

St. Louis Cardinals versus Los Angeles Dodgers

Series starts: Friday, Oct. 3 (6:35 p.m. ET)
Series odds: Los Angeles minus-185/St. Louis plus-165

How they match up: Los Angeles won the season series 4-3 and is a heavy favorite here. But don't forget that last year the Dodgers were a minus-135 favorite in the NLDS yet St. Louis eliminated them as rookie Michael Wacha beat Clayton Kershawtwice. Kershaw again leads the Dodgers' rotation (which is considered much stronger, but L.A. only has a slight edge in team ERA at 3.40 to 3.50) while Wacha is likely to be moved to the St. Louis bullpen after going just 5-6 this year in a season shortened by elbow and shoulder injuries. The Cardinals have the lowest runs-per-game average of the playoff teams at 3.82, while the Dodgers average more than a half-run more at 4.43.
Series pick: There are reasons to fade Los Angeles here and go with St. Louis, not the least of which being the Cards prevailing over the Dodgers last year. However, I think the favorite will win, so I'll pass on the tempting underdog price.
Situational play: I think the way to play the Cardinals is to back them in Game 1 on Friday. Kershaw, for all his regular-season success and he certainly deserved to be in the MVP discussion, is 1-3 lifetime in the playoffs and I believe is fadable, especially with Adam Wainwright in the opener at plus-180. Wainwright has a postseason record of 4-3 but was 4-1 before last year's World Series. He lost his only start against the Dodgers this year, but gave up only one run. I would also look to the unders in this series as the under was 5-2 in the season series; however, it's hard to go under a total of 5.5 like we have in Friday's Game 1.